Nov. 11, 2013
There was plenty of news on the injury front to report out of Northwestern's weekly Monday press conference, and Skip Myslenski was there to cover it as the 'Cats prepare for Michigan this Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, BTN).
THE TOP OF THE NEWS: Venric Mark, the senior running back, is done for the year. The same is true of redshirt freshman running back Stephen Buckley, whose injured knee was operated on last Thursday.
ON V: Mark was not fully healthy for the 'Cats season opener (a lower body injury), but he did play some in their victory over Cal. He then sat out their next three games before returning to face Ohio State at Ryan Field, where he rushed for a net of 60 yards, caught four passes for 43 and even returned a kickoff for 38. The following week he started at Wisconsin, carried three times in his team's first two offensive series and then sat for the rest of the afternoon. The reason, Pat Fitzgerald revealed Monday at his weekly press briefing, was a fractured ankle, which has kept Mark sidelined since then.
"We're disappointed for him, first and foremost, and obviously for the team," he then said. "It's not that the injury has gotten any worse. It's just that it hasn't gotten any better. We'll look at the hardship (Mark taking this as a redshirt year and returning next season) and that stuff at the end of the year. That's the way those works."
GONE, BUT NOT ABSENT: Mark has not only spent the last month rehabbing his ankle in hopes of returning. He has also exhibited, in the face of the cruelest kind of adversity, a maturity that is admirable. "I'm really disappointed for him. He worked diligently to have a great year and things have happened to him that have been out of his control," said Fitzgerald. "But what's been in his control has been his attitude, and he's been amazing. He's been terrific on game day. He's been terrific every day at practice that he's out there, encouraging guys and coaching `em up. Really something special that I've seen from him."
"When he's on the sideline, he's the guy that's most excited," tackle Paul Jorgensen would later add. "He's not sitting it out. He's not feeling sorry himself. He's on the sideline making sure everybody's up, everybody's ready to go. That's been great. That's been huge. I know it's been a frustrating year for him and I feel bad for him because I see him working hard, trying to get back. But he's not sitting, he's not pouting, he's not feeling sorry for himself. He stays into the games. He's there for everybody."
"He definitely gets us going when he's out there," concluded wide receiver Christian Jones. "He's never really quiet. Sometimes you really kind of want him to be quiet"--and here he chuckled--"but he's never really. He's always talking, he's always up and he's always hyper. That really helps, to know somebody--even though they're out and you never know when they're coming back--they're still positive about the team, trying to help the team out anyway possible."
ON BUCK: Fitzgerald would not detail the knee injury Buckley suffered at Nebraska, where he went down just a week after netting 99 yards against Iowa in the first extensive action of his career. But he did say, "It was a successful surgery and we hope to see him back in approximately nine months."
THE REST: Last week, at his briefing, Fitzgerald named 14 players who would have been out with injuries if the `Cats had played last weekend and then another seven who would have been limited in that game. He was asked Monday about a number of them and here is how it went.
When the names of safety Jimmy Hall, corner Nick VanHoose, linebacker Collin Ellis, defensive tackle Sean McEvilly, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, and running backs Warren Long and Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green were raised, he said, "Full go in walk through today."
When the name of wide receiver Tony Jones was raised, he said, "We'll probably see him at practice on Wednesday."
When the name of defensive end Tyler Scott was raised, he said, "We hope to see him on Wednesday."
When the name of defensive end Dean Lowry was raised, he said, "Day-to-day."
When asked if he had gotten what he had hoped for (better health) out of the bye week, he said, "Mission accomplished."
The redshirt freshman Odenigbo, whose quickness has made him an integral part of the 'Cats nickel package, spoke after Fitzgerald on Monday. He said he had suffered a leg contusion, but added, "I'll be good for the game."
A peak at the two-deep depth chart for that game Saturday against Michigan shows (when it comes to the players mentioned above) Green and Trumpy listed as one-two at running back; Scott, VanHoose and Tony Jones listed as starters in their regular positions; and Hall and Odenigbo listed in their normal backup roles. McEvilly, who opened the season as a starter, is listed as backing up Will Hampton. Lowry, who also opened the season as a starter, is not listed at all.
That depth chart also shows sophomore Matt Frazier taking over as starting right guard, where he replaces Ian Park. "He's been in competition like a lot of those guys up there," explained Fitzgerald. "He's been playing a little bit more consistent fundamentally. He's done a nice job in the run game learning through the reps that he's been getting. So far so good over the last three weeks. There's some things he's definitely got to continue to clean up, like most of the guys up there. But I think he's doing a good job."
Redshirt freshman Malin Jones, who was an all-state running back at Joliet Catholic, is now listed as the second string superback behind starter Dan Vitale. When asked about him, Fitzgerald said, "We're trying to find ways to get him on the field. So he'll do both as the season goes along."
AND FINALLY: Fitzgerald, when asked his thoughts on Michigan's loss last Saturday to Nebraska: "I thought it was just like all the Big Ten games I've watched. Both teams physical. Both teams' defenses were really playing well and at a high level. Looked like two teams fighting and scratching and clawing for a win. Two well-coached teams. Two very talented teams. Looked a lot like all the other Big Ten games I've watched on Saturday. At this point in the year, everybody's really close."
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